Written: Chris Carter
DIR: William A. Graham
Blurb: When a space shuttle mission is sabotaged, Mulder suspects it may be the work an evil extraterrestrial spirit that inhabits the body of a former Gemini astronaut.
My Blurb: Of course, he does.
This review will probably have more non-episode related comments than I’d ordinarily slip in because of my personal love and support of NASA, JPL and the space exploration program. As such, you can also expect links galore most likely so this is one of those reviews when if you’re still in a position of falling back on dial-up, you may wish to avoid clicking.
Scene 01: We open watching a past news report taking place at JPL in Pasadena, CA as NASA celebrates a space mission. The year is 1977 and the control center has just processed the first close up images of the Red Planet from the Viking mission.
The report goes on to tell us all about the water locked in Mars’ subsurface but the real story is the controversial image captured of a land formation that looks eerily like a face on the surface of the planet.
Lt. Col. Marcus Aurelius Belt informs the reporter that the image is a trick of light, shadow and perspective but isn’t an actual face carved into the landscape.
Scene 02: Later in his office, the Colonel is looking at a print of the feature on his desk.
Scene 03: Later still, and he’s in bed tossing and turning as a wind blows through the open window. He has a nightmare involving a previous space walk when he reported to NASA that there was something else in orbit with him.
He awakens. As he begins panting for breath, the light and shadow playing on the ceiling from the streetlamps outside resolves itself into a duplicate of the image on Mars. With a screech it projects toward him. He lies in a state of paralysis as the POV zoom lenses his face.
Commentary: And immediately, we must forgive our 90’s-era CGI. Yes, some of the effects are going to be made of cheezy-whiz thanks to the time frame. Otherwise though, we’re off to an okay start. You just knew that the image on Mars that everyone wanted to think was a carving by alien hands was going to come up in the series. And you just knew, Mulder being involved, it wasn’t just going to be wind erosion and a trick of light.
In real life, this is one of the conspiracy theories that will probably never die but I’m not getting into that here.
Scene 04: We skip forward from the 70’s to the 90’s and the launch of one of the shuttles on a mission. That puts us at Cape Canaveral.
Scene 05: The Cape checks in with Houston Mission Control as the shuttle launch sequence reaches less than 60 seconds to go. Standing and watching over the operation is M.A. Belt.
Scene 06: We get an insert shot from inside the elevator system as it pulls away from the shuttles docking port. We find we’re launching the Discovery.
As the final countdown takes place, alarms start to ring out that all parameters are not “in the green”. An abort is immediately called for of the lift off. A system failure has been indicated at T - 03 seconds.
Commentary: I miss the Space Shuttle missions. But unfortunately, I can’t watch the lift off of any of the missions any longer because of seeing in real time the losses of Challenger and then Columbia. Those images are still deeply upsetting to me and can move me to tears, especially when I’m tired. God bless our astronauts. And thank you to the Russian Federal Space Agency for their re-supply missions to the space station during the time when the orbiters were grounded.
*Whew*… okay. Yeah… a lot of feelings are still brought up. But let’s get back to our review.
Scene 07: We skip to two weeks later and in Washington, D.C.
Mulder is meeting Scully outdoors, enjoying the weather but also sharing with her an anonymous note he received from someone claiming to be with NASA and asking for FBI help. They’re waiting for the note sender, but Mulder is starting to doubt the legitimacy.
This is when our Houston Control Center mission control communicator, Michelle Generoo, makes her appearance. Michelle is there with concerns that there may be a saboteur within NASA due to the orbiter mission’s faulty valve issue which caused the mission scrub. She explains that if the orbiter had taken off the liquid fuel would’ve exploded on the launch pad.
[Obviously this is echoing the fate of the Challenger, which I won’t lie -- it bugged me that the link wasn’t expressed when clearly the story idea is based on that loss. It feels highly unlikely that Ms. Generoo wouldn’t mention a fear of a repeat of watching another shuttle explode.]
Michelle gets an X-ray and material’s report from her briefcase which had been anonymously sent to her. It shows that the malfunctioning valve suffered internal scoring that could’ve caused the malfunction experienced. But she can’t tell them when or how any such damage could’ve occurred … whether accidental or sabotage. It’s this unexplained mystery that she’s worried so much about because it means it could happen/be done again. She surreptitiously asked around and found out about the Bureau’s X-Files department and hope they can help investigate and get her some answers.
She also has a personal stake in the next launch window being made without any more “mechanical problems” -- her fiancé is the shuttle commander for the mission.
Scene 08: The following morning, Scully and Mulder are being, well shuttled, around the Houston complex. They discuss who could have a motive for sabotaging a shuttle flight and Mulder provides a laundry list of people who wouldn’t mind seeing the space program drastically curtailed, or would like revenge on NASA for being involved in the alleged conspiracy to hide alien civilizations from us.
Scene 09: As they are escorted down a hallway of iconic images, Mulder’s attention is grabbed by a wall photo of the Gemini 8 mission. He explains to Scully that the Col. Belt they are meeting with was the mission commander and that he narrowly avoided death himself and had to make an emergency landing in the middle of the ocean.
[I am outraged… OUTRAGED, I tells ya… that Marcus Aurelius Belt’s contribution to that mission has somehow not made it onto NASA’s web page describing the mission. Clearly somebody should lose their job and this should be corrected immediately!]
Scene 10: Belt is stand-offish with the agents, despite Mulder having a space geek-gasm at meeting him, considering him a personal hero of his childhood. Dana pulls out the X-Ray of the auxiliary power valve and starts the interview with Belt.
He claims that there isn’t any reason to believe that the damage on the component was a deliberate act against the program. In addition, he makes it clear that the type of sabotage Dana is suggesting, and based on specious evidence to boot, would be virtually impossible without an entire army of people trying to make it happen.
He cuts the meeting short by making it clear that he’ll not allow any postponement of the Discovery’s lift off in 10-ish hours.
Commentary: It’s very rare that we get to see Fox so easily assured and placated and it was really interesting to see Dana taking the lead in questioning Marcus. I really enjoyed the barely suppressed glee of Mulder in sitting in the room with Belt and then his obvious joy at having permission to watch the launch from Mission Control. David played the scene really well by giving this excited energy to Fox without upstaging Gillian’s handling of the dialog portion of the interview scene.
Scene 11: Mulder is much less quiet when the next interview is with the materials scientists. The lead scientist begins to make the same observations as Michelle did, but Fox interrupts - surprised that the scientist apparently never saw the X-Ray before. He explains that they’re a third party contractor and if NASA ordered a material analysis, it wouldn’t necessarily come through them.
Fox is then surprised that a part malfunction wouldn’t cause an automatic request for a materials analysis by the subcontracting company. “Tom” tells him they’ve never had any reason as the valve has been used for years without any problems. He’d only be involved if the part needed a redesign and that would cause a delay of months to the space program… not to mention the costs associated.
Scully broaches that the program is being pushed forward without adequate safety measures for monetary reasons, but Scientist Tom says differently. He then confirms that ultimately the decision about a launch is within Belt’s discretion.
Meanwhile, on a catwalk above, Col. Belt is watching the agents.
Scene 12: As Scully and Mulder return to the second floor, Belt makes his exit quickly.
The agents discuss the possibility that Marcus is interfering with finding that a saboteur is at work, but Mulder can’t believe that an astronaut would deliberately place other astronauts’ lives at risk over costs. Dana suggests that their “evidence” is bogus and Fox can only tell her that he really hopes that it is.
Scene 13: Later, having not found anything suspicious all day, the shuttle is again ready for their launch window. Scully and Mulder watch from above the control center as the shuttle countdown is down to T - 1 minute, 28 seconds.
Fox is like a little boy as the communications between Houston, Discovery and The Cape are going on. But Dana notices that he gets tense as the final seconds are counted down and the main engine start on the booster rockets get ready to be switched on.
This time the shuttle [whose name is clumsily cut off from the “we have launch of the…” announcement] blasts off without any alarms. Everyone is relieved. But Belt realizes that Generoo may be the one to have brought in the FBI when he notes her exchanging “thumbs up” with Fox.
Commentary: The only thing I’ll say about this, is that the amount of stock footage is a bit heavy which is actually cutting into story time for the episode. As much as I like the space program, this is about the X-Files after all. But I also want to mention that really badly done audio … obscuring/clipping that was done with the announcement of the launch. It was really awkwardly done, and it doesn’t make much sense to me. I can only think that the shuttle names couldn’t be used without some sort of payment that wasn’t budgeted into the episode, but since they already had stock footage making it clear that it was the Discovery and since they surely paid for the stock footage itself, I don’t get it.
And if they weren’t going to use the real shuttle’s name, why not just ensure that they didn’t show the lettering on the orbiter’s stock and assign it a fake name throughout the episode? They’ve already inserted a fictional character into a real mission, so what’s the difference? It’s just… weird… that they go out of their way to avoid any mention of the space craft’s identity when simply calling it the Horizon or the Icarus would’ve been easier on the script.
Scene 14: With everything going off without an issue, Fox and Dana are checking out of their hotel to head back to Washington. Mulder is still riding high from the experience.
Suddenly though, Michelle is racing through the lobby and shouting for him. She tells them that they’ve had another problem with the shuttle. She shares that they had a solid booster problem after the orbiter made it up, but they were able to fix that. She’d gone home to get in some sleep when she got a call back because communications with the shuttle have gone down. She tells them to follow her back to Houston Control.
Commentary: And quite weirdly, she has no problem shouting all about the malfunctions to everyone in earshot. I find this to be completely unrealistic of a mission control specialist, as surely hiding any hint of problems with an ongoing mission for as long as feasible is ingrained into a person of her position within the program.
I like to think that bellhop is right now on the phone to the local news station to report this outburst that he was a witness to.
Scene 15: In the car, Scully scans the AM stations for news out of Houston but Mulder explains that they’ll have a press blackout until they know what is going on. Dana fears more sabotage, but Fox rightly tells her that technical issues happen with shuttle flights all time.
In the meantime, Michelle is racing ahead of them through the downpour they’re caught in. From out of the rain-obscured night comes the Alien Ghost Face rushing at her windshield.
She ends up going off the road and rolling her car. Mostly because she flings her arms into the air over her face.
[Is that really a thing, because I’ve been suddenly startled many times by something hitting the windshield or having another vehicle suddenly swerving into my lane and I have NEVER flung my arms around wildly. Yelled? Yes. Suddenly take an intake of breath with a loud gasp? Definitely. Following up with a shouted expletive? Almost always. I’ve even done the wild wheel turn without checking my side mirror for somebody in the way - thankfully, there hasn’t been anyone there thus far. But never have I taken my hands off the steering wheel and covered by eyes.]
Scene 16: Moments later, the agents car is pulling behind the upside down vehicle of Generoo. Mulder has to half squeeze into the vehicle to pull her free.
Dana warns her not to try to move… as she watches her then twist around and sit up and otherwise moving around. Michelle offers that she needs to get to Houston, despite the head gash.
Mulder asks after what happened and Michelle claims that a grotesque face came out of the fog, but she doesn’t know what it was.
Scene 17: Back in Control, Houston is trying to raise the shuttle. The orbiter reports that the transmission is breaking up during receipt. Michelle comes in for a status report and finds out that the orbiter isn’t able to get into the right attitude and the cabin temperature has increased to over 100 F.
Mulder explains to Scully that the orbiter isn’t able to rotate to keep the cabin pointed away from the sun. Mission Controller… uh… Mulligan, let’s say… tells her that the backup systems didn’t respond and he’s tried to remote control their systems but it’s like there is somebody interfering with their communication’s uplink.
Michelle realizes that whoever it is would have to be in the databanks on site. She rushes off with our agents in tow.
Scene 18: They’re searching through the computer room when the lights are turned off and sounds of a generator cycling down are heard in the sudden, complete darkness.
Moments later, the emergency lights flick on and Mulder sees somebody in a lab coat hiding in a corner. This turns out to be an authorized IT tech who was responding to the alert that there was a telemetry sensor malfunction. He tells them that he wasn’t able to trace where the problem lay, nor did he see anyone else skulking about.
Fox orders a security sweep as normal power returns.
Scene 19: In the Control Center, Belt has arrived to the emergency page broadcast. As Michelle returns, she tells him that somebody is interfering with their telemetry uplink communications. Marcus decides to put the shuttle on manual override and let the astronauts fly by the seat of their pants to save themselves, as the temperature in the cabin has reached 116 F.
Michelle wants to instead issue an abort order and have the shuttle be brought in but Belt is concerned with the delivery of the payload. He orders fly-by-wire mode -- basically taking the shuttle off the center’s control and leaving it to the orbiter pilot to manually control the flight path of the ship.
Despite the fact that it's her fiancé in the hotseat, Michelle follows her instructions. It is hoped that by cutting off ground control, the shuttle crew can reboot their systems and restore communications once their maneuvers are completed.
Naturally, when they attempt to re-establish communications there is a long, tense pause as if things went badly before - nope, things are fine now. Hooray!
Scene 20: Belt goes to the bathroom to wash his face after the harrowing experience of almost losing his crew. When he looks in the mirror, he has wild eyes gazing back from his reflection.
Scene 21: A bit later, there is a news conference with Belt. Scully asks after Belt’s decision making but Michelle can see his viewpoint. Bringing the crew out of orbit without delivering the payload would’ve wasted millions of dollars and that would be enough for Congress to shut NASA down.
To Fox’s surprised disappointment, no mention of the orbiter’s trouble is mentioned. Instead Belt updates the reporters that the shuttle has performed thus far magnificently after the astronauts conducted systems tests and they’re currently getting ready for their primary mission.
Obvs, Mulder’s hero has just fallen in his estimation - appearing to have really put the monetary value of the mission over his fellow’s lives. Michelle gives Scully a haggard “what did you expect” look and leaves the room.
Nobody sees them, apparently because Michelle isn’t mobbed with reporters asking her why she’s walking around with a head wound and looking like she’s been beaten with a stick. Our medical doctor doesn’t suggest she go immediately to the infirmary as a precaution because who cares about slow, internal bleeding when there is suspicious staring at Marcus to do.
Commentary: As much as I want to be all outraged with Mulder and Scully, it’s a little difficult to weigh the chance of the astronauts not being able to control a situation for which they’ve been well trained versus Congress’ threat to shut down the program because of NASA’s budget demands.
Sorry -- but I gotta go with the space program being worth more than the astronauts’ lives, even though I feel how I feel about our previous real life losses. It would be different if the script hadn’t had Michelle put so much emphasis on Congress’ threats to the space program but since it was included, I can’t blame Belt for his choice to trust the shuttle pilot to know what to do and thereby saving the entire program.
Scene 22: Later as an exhausted looking Belt heads down a back hallway, Mulder comes jogging up to him to talk. The subject is his lying to the media - but Marcus also realizes that Fox is wondering if he’d lie to a Federal Agent just as easily.
Belt basically says that he lies to the news because what astronauts do used to capture headlines and now it’s barely a clip on the television. With the public taking their accomplishments as just another job, Congress isn’t under pressure not to mothball the whole program as a waste of resources. NASA simply cannot have any blemishes, and since the astronauts are safe and sound and the spacecraft wasn’t lost….
Mulder is sympathetic to the argument as even he can’t name two astronauts on the last shuttle mission, and he’s a supposed fan of the program. But he has a job to do. He asks Marcus if he believes that a saboteur is plaguing the program. The Colonel will only tell him that he’s bringing those men down safely to Earth but won’t directly comment on his thoughts about the malfunctions to Mulder’s further disappointment.
Scene 23: Back in his apartment, Bell grabs a chilled bottle of vodka and swigs. After he loosens his shirt and takes off his shoes, he lies down on the bed. He flashbacks to his space walk and the mystery of what he might have seen or hallucinated in orbit.
As he continues to remember the strange event, we see the Face of Mars over his own face, distorting his visage.
A glowing figure rises from his body and he sits up in its wake. The Alien Ghost wanders out of the high rise window and into the night with Belt reaching for it.
The Ghost Figure looks back at him through the window and then continues its journey up into the dark sky.
Scene 24: Meanwhile, the orbiter is over Earth passing over Canada. Where the sun is brightly shining… so, uh, several hours later.
They report into Houston Control that they heard a muffled bump just then, like something impacted the ship. Even while the communication’s channel is open another bang is heard.
Scene 25: At the same time, a technician is racing up the stairs. He reaches the computers controlling the shuttle flight to find Dana and Fox staring at more computer techs as they diagnose a problem with a circuit board.
Our tech runs straight to Michelle Generoo to whisper to her that the space shuttle is reporting an oxygen leak.
Scene 26: When she reaches the control room, the shuttle is reporting that all of their oxygen gauges are going “screwy”. An astronomer in Canada also calls in to Houston to report that he can see a mile long gaseous cloud following the shuttle’s flight path, which Fox identifies for Scully as the liquid oxygen trail being left behind the shuttle as it travels. He further explicates that the same thing happened to Belt on one of the Apollo missions.
[Wow, really -- And Lt. Col. Belt was scrubbed from that mission data as well? I’m just flabbergasted and appalled at how NASA has refused to acknowledge the Colonel’s involvement in the space program. ;-) ]
Generoo asks where the hell Marcus is during this emergency as once again he’s not where she expects to see him. He was supposed to be there 90 minutes ago but hasn’t shown.
Michelle gets on the headset with the orbiter. Control begins working on worst case scenarios if both oxygen tanks have been damaged. Fox and Dana go to find Colonel Belt.
Commentary: So far, I think that the story is somewhat interesting, but the pacing has been just slightly slow due to some unnecessary padding in the way of stock footage. Another problem is the goofy-looking CGI for the Alien Ghost Face that just pulls me right out of the story every time they try to insert it… especially when they have Ed Lauter pulling faces as the Alien Ghost reveals itself possessing him.
It’s also a slight problem, I think, that everything is being directed at the shuttle itself. Since we only get what is happening aboard the orbiter second-hand with no actual actors in a cockpit dealing with the situation, it’s a “show, don’t tell” situation for the script. This would’ve … maybe… worked better if more threat was being shown toward the Control Center while they are attempting to help. A circuit here and there isn’t enough of a visual threat to really capture the danger and tension.
It’s also obvious with the sort of malfunctions that the shuttle isn’t going to dive into the atmosphere and be lost, or suddenly go shooting out into space, so while the crew is in danger, the episode doesn’t give the feeling that it would go through with the crew dying in orbit, which mutes our reaction to the danger they’re supposedly in.
Finally, we’re not being given any indication exactly what the alien presence is trying to accomplish with any of this. It’s immaterial and can vanish at will… what exactly is the threat from humanity here that it’s trying to avoid? Why bother with all of this?
Scene 27: The agents arrive at Belt’s apartment. He answers the door looking haggard and explains he’s been feeling unwell. Fox tells him about the accident with the orbiter.
Scene 28: At Houston Control, Generoo tries to find out how bad the leak is. Marcus Belt arrives to start giving instructions. He orders the flight crew into their suits in order to vent the atmosphere inside the shuttle out into space to sweep away the CO2 buildup.
While Michelle is ready to bring the orbiter back to Earth and her fiancé is ready for the re-entry maneuvers, the Colonel orders that they continue to make delivery of the payload into its assigned orbit. She reminds him that real people are at risk, but he reminds her that he’s been up there in this situation and knows how to deal with it. He prissily tells her that if she can’t put her personal life to the side to do her job, then she should step away and let him handle it.
They have a staredown until Michelle yanks off her headset and storms away.
Commentary: Okay, even I’m now questioning the value of this payload when the orbiter has had this many problems with it. Discovery should be ordered to land at this point. By the same token however, it was probably the right thing for Generoo to step away since her judgment cannot be said to be uncompromised. I don’t know NASA’s real protocol but it seems highly unlikely to have a mission officer in a position of making life or death decisions for a shuttle crew on which a personal relative… or fiancé… would be directly impacted. If that isn’t an inherently unstable conflict of interest, I can’t imagine what else would be.
Scene 29: Agents Scully and Mulder follow Michelle out into the hallways, where she’s having a meltdown. They discuss the situation and Fox is sure that Belt doesn’t want the men to die and can save them, but Dana and Michelle both agree the astronauts should be brought in. Dana also says that too many things have gone wrong with this mission for it not to be sabotage and she believes that Belt knows what is happening and why.
Mulder tells Generoo that she has to trust Belt to save her crew.
Scene 30: In the meantime, he has her access records related to the Hubble problems, the Mars Observer mission, the Challenger disaster and the current mission. The computer tech warns that would cover 10s of thousands of documents.
Mulder wants schematics of the devices to look for any signs that they were intentionally sabotaged as well and that Belt was somehow cognizant of the threats. While all of the action is taking place in orbit, we watch Dana and Fox riffling through folders and notebooks.
Commentary: Yeah. I think that last line says everything about where this episode goes wrong.
Scene 31: Fox’s attention is centered on the Challenger O-ring debacle.
Scene 32: In the Control Room, the shuttle reports in that they’re releasing the cargo.
We watch the satellite spin out from the orbiter hold [via more stock footage].
As Belt is telling them to get prepared for de-orbit burn, the shuttle commander reports in that there is something outside the ship!
[Oh my gosh! It’s a bad CGI cloud effect!!]
The commander is having a mental meltdown as he yells over the com that there is a ghost outside of the ship. This is something that strikes a profound chord in Belt, of course. He has a public breakdown in the Control Center as he’s overwhelmed with his memories of the same thing happening to him.
Scene 33: Meanwhile, we get more hot folder flipping action.
Dana finds a diagram that matches what was sent to Michelle. The scan was ordered by Marcus Belt… what’s more, Mulder is now able to link the X-Ray of the Challenger’s O-ring to Belt also, ordered one week before Challenger’s fatal accident.
Generoo rushes in to report to them that Colonel Belt has had a collapse and been taken to his office.
Scene 34: When they arrive, they find that he’s disappeared from his office where he was left. Or so they think, until they hear a whimpering. He’s written “helP MMe” on his blotter and is now hunched down under his desk, weeping.
Scene 35: Medical is contacted as Belt continues to plead for help and suffers some sort of seizure activity. Michelle says she’s bringing the shuttle down, but this sends Belt into a spastic terror and he shouts at her that it's out there.
Mulder talks Belt into regaining focus. He shares, with a struggle, that the fuselage of the shuttle has been damaged and won’t survive re-entry. As Belt tries to warn them, his vitals spike into critical territory.
Marcus tells Fox that “they don’t want us to know”; he also claims that they came to him and lived inside him. This leads him into a flashback in which the Space Ghost took control of him while he was in orbit.
As he’s on the gurney in front of everyone there, his face morphs some more. Michelle recognizes the facial image as the thing in the fog that contributed to her accident. Belt goes into cardiac arrest.
Meantime, Controller Mulligan arrives to report in to Generoo that the shuttle has now run out of oxygen and the crew are down to their 30-minute emergency supply tanks.
Michelle runs off to take care of talking the orbiter down, somehow. In the meantime, the paramedics are able to bring back Belt.
Scene 36: In the Control Room, she orders deceleration maneuvers. The commander is relieved and states they have some spooky stuff taking place.
Scene 37: In the hallway, while he’s being rolled out, Belt tells Mulder they need to change the return trajectory of the shuttle. Mulder rushes off to insist to Michelle that she change the re-entry trajectory to 35-degrees.
Scene 38: They spend several valuable seconds debating the new orders from Belt as the shuttle approaches the communications black out window. Michelle orders the new course correction and alternate landing site, but they can’t tell if the shuttle received the instructions before the black out initiated.
Scene 39: In Albuquerque, NM at Kirtland Air Base, they watch for the shuttle’s expected arrival. Houston asks for confirmation after the shuttle makes it past Hawaii.
Several seconds pass.
Scene 40: Houston receives the confirmation from the shuttle that they’ve made it home safely.
Scene 41: Belt watches the after-mission news conference being carried out by Generoo -- and whattayaknow, she spins the same line of an uneventful mission that she had derided him for with Scully and Mulder earlier.
Marcus’ vitals suddenly go hyper. The face reappears over his real one. The entity begins its travel out of his body, but Belt isn’t going to let himself be used anymore. He jumps out of the hospital window and falls to his death, remembering his orbital walk.
Scene 42: In his office the next day, Mulder hunches over the paper with the front page news about Marcus Belt’s plunge when Scully comes in. He tells her he believes that Belt was possessed by something when he was out in space.
Scully reports that the official autopsy showed he was suffering extreme dementia. Mulder believes he didn’t know what had happened to him.
Dana reports on an investigation into Belt’s death ongoing, but Fox is sure he took his own life to stop the thing that had been using him.
Scene 43: Belt ends up being buried with honors.
Michelle and Fox share nods at knowing the extraordinary truth behind his recent actions beside his flag draped coffin.
Our POV closes in and focuses on one of the flag’s stars.
The Good: I liked seeing Mulder put in a position of allowing his fanboy persona to get in the way of his logical deductive reasoning and putting Scully in the position of having to play skeptic of what "authority" is saying to them.
I did like the guest actors in their roles as well.
The Bad: The biggest fault of the episode is the Space Ghost's muddled goal. What is it trying to hide, exactly? We've already been to Mars and found nothing but the rock formation that could be a face so it doesn't really make much sense that it would be worried about some satellites in orbit of Earth. What could we possibly see that we haven't already? There doesn't seem to be an ongoing threat to an immaterial being that would cause it to want to stop the space program, especially a threat to something that can simply enter human's minds and "disappear" at will. What is it getting out of taking such drastic actions?
And let's say that it is just that paranoid about our discovering ...something... maybe its very existence, that it wants to stop our space exploration. Why are all of the "incidents" between the circuits in home base's computers and the physical problems on the shuttle all things that can be worked around? Surely with 17,000 components aboard the shuttle, it could find a few key areas to sabotage that would leave the vessel stranded or destroyed? It seems to be very poorly thought out sabotage if a castrophic loss of the vehicle and therefore encouraging humanity to stop exploring is the goal. This is especially true when we find out that it can affect mass by its bumping physically into the orbiter later in the episode to damage the tiles.
The idea that Michelle Generoo would be allowed to continue making command decisions after she's suffered an obvious head injury after her accident and in a position of having to order her fiance to make life or death corrections to his orbiter is ridiculous. There are too many times when she'd clearly have been replaced simply because of the circumstances interfering with her objectivity and clear decision making.
There is also the huge logic problem of interference with communications with the shuttle not being made a much bigger deal. This is potentially a national security threat and yet nobody reports in to any other agencies about this mess. It's ridiculous that this would continue being handled by the X-Files and only its two agents. In fact with Michelle suspecting possible sabotage, I'm surprised that she'd even look to the X-Files for help in the first place instead of going to the regular FBI for help.
Also, the episode has a real lack of drama because all of the danger is taking place off screen and we're only hearing about it second hand. The real action is aboard the endangered shuttle... not in file rooms with Mulder and Scully wandering about. Even Mission Control is only tangentially connected to the actual danger happening. We get absolutely nothing from the actual people in the real danger going about trying to rescue themselves.
Other Thoughts: I can understand bringing up the Challenger disaster what with the plot of this episode, so that doesn't bother me in itself. It did feel like tying Belt's actions into the loss of the shuttle though was a step too far and was just in poor taste. I also don't like that when the idea should've been broached of the disaster - when Michelle first shows up with her suspicions to Mulder - it wasn't, but then it was used as a link in the chain leading to Marcus Belt's association with the malfunctions of the current mission.
I also found it a bit weird for so many real life missions to be used as background, instead of just making up faux-past space flights. It's odd to make Belt such a center of these real life missions as it sort of downplays the real-life accomplishments of the crewman who actually carried out actions that are now being attributed to this fictional character. This is exacerbated by the refusal to ever speak the shuttle's name, instead of just assigning a faux one. The attempt to insert all of this fake history into real life events is awkwardly managed.
The sheer amount of stock footage is a bit of a problem, but only because that was time that could've been used to see the actual shuttle crew fighting for their lives. This episode was meant to be a "bottle show" to control cost overruns for the series, and it really does show [although the point of the episode failed, since this episode also ran into cost overruns].
The Score: So, how to score this one: It's an odd one to review and score because so much of my comments above are relegated to The Bad. But the episode itself isn't painful to sit through and the actors are capable enough to keep your attention so you don't realize just how little sense it's making. The way the episode is carried out with hear-say, rather than being shown the astronauts in danger is the most obvious thing wrong, but the Alien's entire motivation is so muddy and its execution of its plans seems so haphazard and clumsy.
Basically, the episode is a real mess but you may not realize it while you're watching it at least until we start spending time in a file room when the astronauts are struggling for their lives.
So, how to score this badly done episode that doesn't feel all that bad while you're watching it?
2.50 out of 5 stars, even though I think that I should be scoring it lower.
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